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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rare Plant Thought Extinct Re-discovered in Upstate New York

by Christine Lepisto, Berlin

Seaside goldenrod rediscovered alongside roads photo
Image source: Tony Eallonardo in Syracuse

A salt-marsh plant thought to have vanished from upstate New York is back. But it has not come back to the inland salt marshes, of which only four remain (three in New York and one in Michigan). Rather, the rare goldenrod was found growing alongside local streets, probably competing well where run-off from winter road salt suppresses other plant life. The species was discovered serendipitously by Dr. Leonardo of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) as he was out walking.

"They're coming out of asphalt, with no soil anywhere," Leopold is quoted in an article in Syracuse. "And it's striking because they're all blooming right now. It's a visually spectacular plant." But the seaside goldenrod's beauty is not alone among it's benefits to humanity and the environment.

Beauty to Behold
Seaside goldenrod can grow to 8 feet tall and blooms rich yellow blossoms atop dark green stems and leaves. Seaside goldenrod is innocent of misplaced blame for causing allergies -- which are actually caused by the ragweed that blooms around the same time. It is a good nectar source for many insects, especially because it blooms later in the season than many other native goldenrod species.

Benefits to Boot
However, the most important contribution of seaside goldenrod may be applications in urban gardening. "The real value is we've been trying to find native species to use in a green approach to handling urban run-off. Not only is this plant beautiful, it is quite functional. Instead of building a multimillion treatment plant or allowing the run-off going into our creeks and streams, it looks like this could provide a natural solution," Dr. Leonard is quoted as saying in an article at the Weather Channel's Forecast Earth. Furthermore, the plants grow maintenance free, making them a better choice for urban community gardens than many imported species and superior to greenhouse plants often selected for public landscaping.

Post-doc student Tony Eallonardo is helping Dr. Leonardo locate populations of the seaside goldenrod. Two sites have been found in addition to the original plants discovered by Dr. Leonard, including a stand in the median on highway 81 (pictured). According to Eallonardo, the plant species represents "the natural and cultural heritage of Syracuse, the Salt City." The region once had thousands of inland saltwater marshes.